“Aladdin” is the latest in the list of Disney animated films to be remade in live-action. Directed by Guy Ritchie (“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” 2017), the film stars Mena Massoud (Prime Original “Jack Ryan,” 2018-present), Naomi Scott (“Power Rangers,” 2017), Nasim Pedrad (FOX’s “New Girl”), Will Smith, (“Focus,” 2015) and Marwan Kenzari, and mostly traverses the same story beats as the ’92 Musker-Clements original. It’s also the best Bollywood musical in spirit to come out of a Hollywood studio.
Now before we rush into Assumption City, allow this writer the chance to explain. A lot of movies try to mix in the Indian Blockbuster Musical, but end up throwing it all in without the kind of respect and knowledge of the image system.
With Ritchie’s direction, however, the movie doesn’t go overboard in its enthusiasm and blends its inspirations together to bring forth a culturally diverse breath of fresh air that’s as visually stunning and entertaining as is emotionally relevant.
According to a Hollywood.com report last month, Smith confirmed this: “I was trying to do my best Bollywood version in the movie.” He added that he made a persuasive case to the director to adopt the filmmaking style, especially for a particular musical number.
Of course, it wasn’t just the sequence that received the treatment — there was a healthy marriage of the brilliant Broadway splendor and the kind of camp you’d expect in a larger-than-life Indian blockbuster musical template.
This isn’t exactly new — the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” series had a couple of loving (albeit exceptionally misguided) takes on the style, and then there was Danny Boyle’s Academy Award-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” the less about which is spoken, the better.
There are also some very timely changes to the script that really hit home — Naomi Scott’s portrayal of Jasmine is an incredible example. In an interview with independent online film portal The Cutaway, Scott revealed, “[Jasmine’s] objective at the beginning of the movie is to lead, and I think it’s important for young girls to see a female pushing forward her narrative and being active, and […] there’s something very powerful in that.”
Jasmine’s revamped agency aside, the film boasts a diverse cast consisting of Massoud as the titular protagonist, Kenzari’s Jafar, Smith in his pitch-perfect contribution to the Genie, and Pedrad in a stunningly performed and absolutely hilarious Dalia. (Billy Magnussen plays a dumb white dude in the movie, by the way, and he seems to be having a ball just digging into the Basic-Fuccboi-With-His-Posse role with unrestrained glee. We’re happy too).
And then there’s the Guy Ritchie trademark woven into the filmmaking style of the film. There’s a unique sense of visual speed Ritchie has a fantastic hold on, and while this is the least Guy Ritchie movie in his filmography, a lot of his signature beats are still alive and well, and they’re perfect for this particular remake. The biggest win, however, goes to Walt Disney, who’ve mostly gotten their progressive stance super right with their last few wins. Whether it’s smashing the feudalist and classist narrative in “Star Wars” films with “The Last Jedi” or the many, many great beats achieved by their subsidiary Marvel Studios in “Black Panther” and “Captain Marvel,” the studio seems to be on the right side of gender and class.
The “Aladdin” remake falls in the same bracket, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Ritchie’s solid hold over the film’s visually jaw-dropping insanity complements the narrative’s faithfulness to its source (with some very timely changes, obviously). With a diverse cast, an image system that’s both culturally diverse and an audio-visual roller-coaster, and a whole that’s quite the sum of its parts it deserves to be, Ritchie’s spin on the animated film could — quite possibly — be the first live-action remake to actually be a masterful reinterpretation than a standard trip-down-memory-lane.
“Aladdin” is quite possibly the first live-action remake of a Disney animated film that works both in terms of faithful adaptation, timely character arc updates, and an incredibly diverse image system that just kills it through and through. A must-watch that stands out as its own unique thing. Recommended.